Figuring out how to get into a large shopping center is generally not a problem in my household. (A semi-truck and a desire to get discounted Halloween candy can smash a lot of obstacles.) But when it comes to plans for a large shopping center south of the SLT and Iowa street interchange, I have learned access issues are delaying that multimillion dollar project.
In case you have forgotten, a North Carolina development group has filed plans to build an approximately 585,000-square-foot shopping center that would include large retailers, restaurants and hotel space. The plans were filed in June, but have yet to have a hearing at City Hall. The proposed site is at the southeast corner of the interchange.
The project was tentatively scheduled to go before the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission at its Oct. 25 meeting. But the city announced Thursday that won’t happen. Instead, the project’s hearing has been indefinitely delayed.
Sandra Day, the city planner who is overseeing the project, said the city, the state and the development group are struggling to come up with a plan that allows motorists to safely turn into and out of the proposed shopping center. The project wants access along Iowa Street, which is also U.S. Highway 59.
A traditional traffic signal may not work for the project because the proposed entrance point is already near the traffic signals that control the SLT and Iowa Street interchange. Day said a roundabout had been proposed for the site, but that didn’t garner favor with transportation officials. Day said the presence of the entrance and exit ramps for the SLT/Iowa Street interchange also complicates the access issues for the property.
Thus far, though, I believe the issues are all engineering-related. I haven’t heard of the parties arguing about who is going to pay for transportation infrastructure. When I’ve talked with the development group in the past, it has said it isn’t asking the city for incentives to build this project. Sometimes communities will chip in to pay for costs related to traffic signals and other such improvements. But I think that would be a deal-killer with this City Commission.
The project will have enough of a challenge getting a majority of city commissioners to approve the development under any conditions. The development group — Collett development — had a previous shopping center plan for the project rejected. It filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming the commission improperly rejected the project. That lawsuit is still pending, but in the meantime the group filed a new plan, likely because it received some encouragement to do so from some City Hall officials.
Thus far, the idea of whether the site is appropriate for a large shopping center hasn’t been a sticking point, I’ve been told. That may change once the project gets to the City Commission level, though. There have been opponents who argue the city already has enough retail space, and others who argue the city should be trying to steer new retail development to the area near Rock Chalk Park in northwest Lawrence.
But there are supporters for the project too. They note that large retailers don’t really get steered in particular directions. They instead just shift their focus to another community. Others in town simply want the new stores that the development group have been touting. Collett previously said Academy Sports, Old Navy, Designer Shoe Warehouse, a speciality grocer and others had expressed strong interest in the project.
Day said a date has not been set for the project to come before the Planning Commission for a hearing. But Day said she’s heard nothing from developers to indicate that they’ve lost interest in the project.
“They have not withdrawn the project by any means,” she said.
New fabric and craft retailer opens in south Lawrence; sales taxes continue to surge, while questions persist about SLT shopping center
Nothing says fall like pumpkin spice and a head-to-toe wardrobe of fleece. There is obviously no shortage of pumpkin spice, as intravenous drip bags of it are now available on every corner. But I do have news on the fleece front. A national chain fabric and craft retailer has opened along south Iowa Street.
Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Store has opened its Lawrence location in the shopping center at 27th and Iowa streets. The store officially opened at 9 a.m. Thursday with a ribbon-cutting and several giveaways. Apparently there are people who love fleece even more than I do (or perhaps they thought there was a pumpkin spice giveaway) because there was a line outside the store of several dozen people about a half-hour before opening.
Whatever the case was, the competition level in the fabric and craft world has increased in Lawrence. Jo-Ann occupies the space that formerly housed Hancock Fabric, a national chain that went bankrupt. Hancock primarily was a fabric and sewing store. Jo-Ann has a full line of fabrics and sewing supplies, but also has a larger inventory of crafting items. I got to take a special pre-opening walk through the store (it may or may not have ended prematurely when I rolled in a pile of fleece). Among the categories of crafting items were scrapbooking items, food crafts like cookie cutters, holiday decoration kits, craft paints and several other categories.
The store is broader than Hancock’s but not as large as Hobby Lobby and Michaels, the two large craft and fabric superstores in town.
In addition to the numerous customer giveaways, local schools are set to get something from the store. The company plans to provide a $2,000 grant to one school in the community, according to a press release from the company.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Maybe it was pumpkin spice sales. Maybe it was fleece sales. Hold the phone, could it be sales of pumpkin spice-scented fleece? Surely not, but something continues to have retail spending in Lawrence on a hot streak.
The latest one-month report from the Kansas Department of Revenue shows Lawrence sales tax collections are up 11 percent compared with the same one-month period a year ago. The report was the October report, but that’s not really when the sales were made. Because of the delay in sales tax reporting, the sales are more likely reflective of activity in August.
The 11 percent increase is impressive; the city collected about $220,000 more in sales tax during that one month than it did the previous year. But at this point, such an increase is not all that surprising. Sales tax collections in Lawrence have been really strong for pretty much the entire year. As we have reported month after month, Lawrence has seen the most robust sales tax growth of any of the major retail markets in the state. That continues to be the case.
Year to date, Lawrence sales tax collections are up 6.1 percent compared with the same period a year ago. Thus far, Lawrence has collected about $1.2 million more in sales tax revenues than it did during the same period a year ago. Importantly, the 6 percent growth is far exceeding what the city budgeted to receive in 2016. The city budgeted for a 3.7 percent increase. If my abacus is working correctly, the city has about $470,000 more in sales tax revenues than it expected to receive, and that number could grow more before the end of the year.
Here’s a look at how Lawrence’s sales tax collections stack up to some of the other large retail centers in the state:
— Lawrence: up 6.1 percent
— Olathe: up 3.6 percent
— Topeka: up 3.4 percent
— Overland Park: up 2.5 percent
— Manhattan: up 2.3 percent
— Kansas City: up 1.7 percent
— Johnson County: up 1.6 percent
— Sedgwick County: up 1.3 percent
— Lenexa: down 3.6 percent
One of the more interesting questions in town continues to be why are sales tax collections up so much? It is a bit of a guessing game, but the city does try to analyze each month’s reports. The city hasn’t yet released its report for this most recent batch of sales tax data, but the analysis for last month’s data is available. It shows the same thing we have seen most of the year. Three areas of the economy are performing pretty well. Sales taxes collected on building materials are up 25 percent; sales taxes from retail stores are up 9 percent; and sales taxes from grocery stores and other food and beverage stores are up 6 percent.
As we have noted before, Menards — a major seller of building supplies — is a new entrant into the market. That certainly could be playing a role in the increase in that category. Evidence continues to mount that there were people leaving the community to buy building supplies and now they are keeping more of those dollars at home.
You also could argue that the addition of Dick’s Sporting Goods, Ulta Beauty, The Boot Barn and PetSmart at 27th and Iowa streets has helped boost the retail totals. But it can’t be said definitely. It could just be sales of pumpkin spice chewing gum at Wal-Mart. It could just be that Lawrence’s slightly better population growth of the last few years is paying off.
Whatever is happening, though, is eye-catching. Add that to the pending completion of the South Lawrence Trafficway — it is scheduled to open by Thanksgiving — and you can see why Lawrence may be drawing some good interest from retailers who want to be in the market.
But, for all those positives, the city also has to contend with what potential retailers must surely view as a negative: a lawsuit over potential retail development at the intersection of the South Lawrence Trafficway and U.S. Highway 59.
As we have reported, a shopping center was proposed for the site, with thoughts that it would bring everything from an Old Navy to Designer Shoe Warehouse. The property already is in the city limits. The city’s long-range growth plans label the area as being appropriate for “auto-related” commercial development. It is not entirely clear what that means, but it is different from plain old regular commercial development. A debate ensued, the project gets rejected by the City Commission, and a lawsuit is filed by the out-of-state development group. That lawsuit is still in its early stages.
The City Commission’s rejection of that project in January left a lot of uncertainty about what is the appropriate use for that very high-profile piece of property. Nearly 11 months later, none of that uncertainty has been cleared up. Once the lawsuit was filed, city officials have hardly uttered a peep about what the future of that land should be.
Think about this: The South Lawrence Trafficway project has been more than two decades in the making. Now that it is completed, we don’t know what we want to have happen at its premiere intersection.
The iron is hot, but it seems that the community is paralyzed on whether to pick up a hammer to strike it.